By Chris Wantuck
Taking on the seemingly immense task of performing a full ground up restoration of a collector car can seem daunting. Even if it's not a complete restoration that you're contemplating, there are steps you should take that will let you document your project in a way that will be invaluable during research and reassembly. Here are some obvious (and some not so obvious) tips that should help you when documenting your car restoration project.
As we're now well into in the global information age, sharing information among collectors is becoming more common place. Whether it's for you or for sharing, taking some simple steps in the early stage of restoration doesn't require significant effort, just some discipline. Months (or years) later it can add to the enjoyment and appreciation of the work you put into your car restoration project if you take the time now to properly document and photograph your efforts. Complete documentation of your project will also serve as a means of verifying the work done in the event that you want to sell your car.
During disassembly, you will need to capture the details of how parts are mounted, their appearance and orientation, and even recognizing and documenting missing or broken pieces. This is not to suggest that what you are documenting is original to the car. You're merely documenting what is there. It's not uncommon that over several decades changes could have been made that altered the factory original. But it is important to document these details as they're currently presented for comparison at a later time.
We start with a good notebook for creating a diary-like narrative when coupled with images and diagrams gives us the complete story of our car restoration project. Legible handwriting is essential. And with digital cameras and video cams, capturing images has never been easier.
Digital Camera — The most obvious way to document details is with a digital camera. Digital cameras offer the ability to take as many pictures as you like with minimal expense. You may find it useful to take several pictures of a particular area: one at a distance, another at intermediate distance, and a close up shot. If you rely solely on closeups, you may lose some context as to what you are looking at.
When possible, it's advisable to use ambient lighting for your photos. Using flash sometimes gives you washed-out images that can obscure the details you're trying to record. Sometimes a trouble light is enough to bring up the details you need.
When finished, simply delete the photos that don't quite look right or are out of focus. Be sure to download your photos regularly into a dedicated folder on your computer. If you don't have a computer, many drugstores have facilities for printing your digital images and you will have the option to print only those photos you want to keep.
The prices of digital cameras, especially the Point and Shoot kind, have fallen enough to allow a dedicated camera for shop use. If you already have a digital camera, this could be an opportunity to upgrade to a newer, more capable model for family use and keep the older model for use in the garage. Then there's no need to worry about getting grease or other dirt on it. The camera doesn't need to be set on the highest quality image and you can keep your camera's battery charger in the shop, too. It's also important to remember to take your digital camera or video cam with you to classic car shows. This is invaluable when determining what is and what is not original to your car as well as getting a "second opinion" as to how the car should go back together.
Digital Video Camera — Camcorders are helpful as they provide the opportunity for a "photo in the round." You can record a full sampling of an auto, going from bumper to bumper, under the hood, and into the interior. Take your time. Move or pan the camcorder slowly. The intent is to pick up as much information as you can. When it's not rushed, the playback could provide an "Ah ha" moment on a particle detail, maybe one you weren't even focusing on when you took the video. It pays to slow down.
Camcorders like digital cameras are more affordable than ever. The depth perception that video offers is immeasurable. A complete video should take 30-45 minutes. Use the zoom feature as necessary; move steadily and slowly and shoot from many points of view: Avoid shaking and if necessary include an external light. The vehicle you record can be restored or an untouched original. If you explain to a car owner what you're trying to accomplish, he or she usually will gladly accommodate your request, but be sure to ask first. And be careful with the camera and any other related equipment you may have. You don't want to ding the paint while trying to get that perfect shot. Camcorders also record audio, so don't be afraid to narrate along the way.
Purchase supplies first — Purchase basic supplies and have them readily available in a clean area of the shop. Sharpie marking pens come in different sizes ranging from fine thin tip pens to chisel tip markers. Sharpie permanent markers are worth the extra cost over other markers as their inks don't smear and mark on almost any surface.
Clockwise, Sharpie Brand markers, large self adhesive envelopes, medium size 6X9 envelopes, and smaller 2X4 envelopes, older Nikon Coolpix digital camera, painters masking tape, and reinforced I.D. Tags.